Welcome from the Director

Joan Rubin
Joan Shelley Rubin, Director

The University of Rochester Humanities Center, located on the second floor of Rush Rhees Library, is dedicated to exploring the varied dimensions of the human experience. We are committed to values that lie at the heart of humanistic inquiry: critical thinking, reasoned discourse, diversity, civility, empathy, and compassion. Our primary mission is to serve the needs of a democratic citizenry through scholarly reflection, inclusive exchange, and collaboration across disciplines in the humanities and humanistic social sciences. Whether you are an anthropologist or a literary critic, a musicologist or a historian, a faculty member, graduate student, or undergraduate, you will discover among Center participants a shared engagement with the practices, ideas, beliefs, and art forms that people have created over time to understand and express the human condition.

Founded in the spring of 2015, the Humanities Center has an annual theme that governs its lecture series and its program for internal and external fellows. Our theme for 2021-22 is “Migration.”  That is because this year the Center is the site of a Sawyer Seminar, a program of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to establish a “temporary research center” on a topic of vital interest.  Our Sawyer Seminar, titled “Unbordering Migration in the Americas:  Causes, Experiences, Identities,” includes public lectures, workshops, an art exhibition, a film festival, and many other activities—all open to the public.

In 2022-23, our theme will be “Futures (Past and Present),” another rubric under which we will probe questions about the human experience across time, place, and culture.  Some of the probing will occur in our bi-weekly Jesse L. Rosenberger Work-in-Progress lunchtime seminar for fellows, faculty affiliates, and graduate students. The seminar is the venue for lively discussion about the participants’ current research, enhancing the prospects for interdisciplinary collaboration.

Among our other central activities are working groups, small gatherings of students and faculty to talk about matters of common interest.  These include Grupo, devoted to topics concerning Latin America, another that focuses on broad professional opportunities for Ph.Ds., and a Victorian reading group.  We welcome new working groups, which are funded by the Humanities Project, at any time. Along with the Ferrari Humanities Symposia and the Distinguished Visiting Humanist series, the Humanities Project also brings thought-provoking speakers to the campus. At the same time, University of Rochester researchers have the opportunity to interact with colleagues from Syracuse and Cornell Universities, as well as several upstate New York liberal arts colleges, through the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation-funded Central New York Humanities Corridor, which runs working groups on several topics of interest to humanists.

The Center’s goal of fostering community among those studying the humanities and humanistic social sciences at Rochester extends to University of Rochester undergraduates, who have often felt isolated from one another. Our Meliora Scholars program offers funds to selected second-semester first-year students to undertake a research project during their sophomore or junior years, with the goal of presenting their work at the beginning of their senior year. Meliora Scholars attend at least three Center-sponsored events each semester and meet with Humanities Center mentors as they devise their projects. The Center also mentors recipients of Humanities Research and Innovation Grants (HRIGs). I and my colleagues who comprise the affiliates of the Center (around 250 at this writing) are extremely grateful to Ani and Mark Gabrellian, who have generously endowed the directorship of the Center. We could not operate without the support of the Office of the President, the Dean of the School of Arts and Sciences, University Advancement, and numerous others.

Those of us who have pursued careers in the humanities for many years acknowledge that our labor is frequently solitary.  COVID-19 has brought additional challenges to our work, although we have returned to in-person programming when appropriate.  Still, we have carried on, and when we encounter other individuals with what the historian Robert Darnton once called “the glint in their eyes”—when we recognize in someone else the passion for grappling with the questions that have animated our research and writing—the connection we feel is gratifying and rewarding. The Humanities Center at the University of Rochester is abounding with such connections. I welcome you to join us.

Joan Shelley Rubin
Dexter Perkins Professor in History
Ani and Mark Gabrellian Director of the Humanities Center